Digital Technology and Dementia – let’s not get too excited by shiny new gadgets!

Today we welcomed a visitor from the Alzheimer’s Society to see the Tunstall Response centre and Innovations Centre. The order of the visit is very deliberate and whilst the Innovations Centre does indeed contain shiny new gadgets, what really matters is the service and the people element of any services enabled by digital technology. That’s what I’m going to concentrate on in today’s blog.

The Tunstall Response Centre receives around 4,000-6,000 calls a day and over 2million calls a year. Its highly trained and dedicated staff are on hand 24 hours a day to answer alarm calls and calls from a range of digital solutions. Details of the user are instantly displayed on the operators computer screen, enabling them to take the most appropriate action which may include contacting local key holders, family members, a doctor or the emergency services.

Our Response Centre Manager Bev, is one of the loveliest people you can ever meet. She explained that a call from someone living with dementia can be a lot harder to deal with than a call from someone having a heart attack. As awful as it may sound, the latter is quite straight forward, in that you know what you are dealing with, and do so quickly and efficiently with care and compassion.

Difficult questions
Bev went on to describe some of those difficult questions. How do you answer the question from a lady who calls you at 5pm and asks if she has had her breakfast, or if you can explain how to work the TV remote control. She may say she hasn’t seen anyone all day but we can ascertain from our database that the home carer has just left and is due to visit again in a few hours.

All you can do is reassure and where appropriate, escalate to other services where friends and family aren’t available to help. The calls we receive cover just about every possible circumstance and each time we will gladly deal with the request in a professional and friendly manner.

Whilst there are stringent targets to meet in terms of answering the call within 60 seconds or less – more rigorous than even the emergency services – the Response Centre is not measured on average call handling times, simply because there are some calls you can’t rush. And when we have bad weather e.g. last Saturday, storms in the south west caused
electricity outages, this can be very demanding, particularly if speaking with someone living with dementia.

For example, if a smoke detector call is raised, and you contact the home owner who says there is definitely no fire here, we have to accept what they are saying and move on. However if the smoke detector activates 3 times in a row, and you can see this has happened before, we would definitely call the fire brigade. One lady pressed her pendant hundreds of times in one month, making that particular device totally inappropriate – it wasn’t helping her, it wasn’t helping the Response Centre and a more appropriate package would need to be found, no doubt using unobtrusive sensors around the home to manage any risks to independence.

Gadgets are irrelevant
It’s impossible to predict what the next call will bring. In all of the examples above, the shiny new gadgets in the home are totally irrelevant – it’s what happens next that really matters.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the functionality of the latest smart phone or wearable which makes my life easier or more fun. I have the capability of doing my own research and buying the product. But I do like a good service, particularly if I get stuck with something or if it goes wrong.

One thing can’t be separated from the other. So don’t be blinded by the shiny new gadgets out there at the expense of what matters for people and particularly people living with dementia – the connection to someone who can support you to live as independently, happily and healthily as you can.

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